The rich biodiversity of Northeast India can be a veritable treasure house of algal species. Many of these species can be rich sources of bio-fuel. The worldwide search for sources of oil other than the fast-exhausting fossil fuels has found a new hope in algal species. Algae can produce more oil per hectare than most other bio-fuels and can be cultivated on non-arable land - reducing the competition with food crops for land.
With this in mind, TERI has launched an initial two-year search for bio-diesel-yielding algae in the Northeast in collaboration with three other institutes. Initial investigations have indicated the existence of oil-generating algae. The challenge now is to confirm how many of them actually exist and to quantify the abundance of their occurrence.
Algal strains will be screened for lipid and fatty acid composition. They will be tested by TERI partnering with the Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainable Development (IBSD), Assam Agricultural University (AAU) and Mizoram University (MU). Within a year, the project titled 'Identification and Screening for Potential Bio-Diesel-Yielding Microalgae from Northeast India' has identified 21 algal strains from Assam and Meghalaya.
The scientists involved in the search expect that a systemic survey and collection will lead to discovery of more algal and cyanobacterial strains. They also expect that some of these will have substantial oil content that can be provided to the algal repository and used for bio-diesel production at a commercial scale. Their aim is to identify a total of 800 strains per year from the seven sisters in the Northeast.
The academic and research institutes will isolate algal strains specific to different ecological environments. The project will collect, isolate and identify microalgae belonging to diverse groups, such as diatoms, green algae and cyanobacteria, for their suitability in production of bio-diesel.
The isolated strains will be purified, identified, cultured and maintained in a suitable culture. The lipid classes will also be identified with the help of gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy.
Impact of different environmental stressors and culture age on algal growth, biomass, lipid accumulation and profile will be worked out. The final maintenance will be done by the IBSD, Imphal.
The information generated through this project will serve as resource base for biotechnological intervention in increasing the bioactive output and initiating commercial exploitation in future.
Yield per hectare of algal oil can be 15-fold higher than palm oil - currently, the largest oil producer, making it a promising sustainable oil source for bio-diesel production. So they are predicted to play a crucial role in a clean, environmentally sustainable future. As they can be harvested batch-wise throughout the year, they provide a reliable and continuous supply of oil.
Microalgae can utilize salt and wastewater streams, thereby greatly reducing freshwater use.